Community leaders discuss successes

Toby Tobias, North Manchester Town Council president, speaks at the State of the Community breakfast. Photo by Joseph Slacian

By Joseph Slacian

Communities in Wabash County experienced a variety of successes in 2018.

That was the word Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the second annual State of the Communities breakfast sponsored by Grow Wabash County.

But, as it is in nearly every case, the county also experienced some problems which officials hope to address in the future.

During the breakfast, emceed by Keith Gillenwater, Grow Wabash County president and CEO, representatives from the county’s incorporated municipalities spoke about the past year in their communities.

Opening the breakfast, Gillenwater noted that there was $44 million in business investments last year in Wabash County, bringing in 100 new jobs. The jobs pay an average of just more than $31 per hour, and have increased local income tax by $188,757, he said.

One new industry, 10X Manufacturing, announced it is opening a facility in Wabash, while another, Midwest Poultry, announced plans to relocate its headquarters in North Manchester.

Barry Eppley, Wabash County Commissioners president, noted the county had a variety of successes.

For example, it established a new coroner’s workspace which was needed as the new Parkview Wabash Hospital does not have a morgue.

“The project represented a growth in county provided services, and as such, there was rigorous conversation, as to if this type of work needed to be continued in the county or not,” Eppley said. “The resulting facility will serve the community, the coroner and the future coroners, for years to come.”

County roadways also experienced some success, he noted, as two bridges are under construction and a third is receiving a new deck. County Road 1100 N also is being resurfaced.

“This busy section of road has been receiving maintenance for years, but the usage has continually outpaced the effort,” he said.

The work will be done with up to $1 million in Community Crossing Grant funds, and should improve travel and logistics in the area for years to come.

But not all has been positive, Eppley noted, citing the continued jail overcrowding as one major issue facing Wabash County.
When Eppley took office on Jan. 1, 2009, the jail population was 107 in a 72-bed jail facility. Jail population the next several years fluctuated on Jan. 1 in the 70s and 80s, with the high population 107 in 2014.

“That seemed to support the decision not to build a new jail,” Eppley said. “It was a little over capacity, but manageable.”
In 2016, the number increased to 113, and that triggered another study. While a new jail is needed, according to the study, funding remains the major sticking point.

“To date, we’re not aware of a funding option that will support a new jail for Wabash County,” Eppley said. “But a couple of weeks ago Sheriff Ryan Baker arranged a meeting between judicial officials and commissioners, and it was determined again that a new facility was needed, and that the effort to fund it should be restarted.”

Commissioners and the County Council will have another financial study done on a new jail, Eppley said.

“If that financial analysis cannot focus on a plan that will work, we will construct a script to take to the State Legislature, or the governor, or who ever,” he said.

One other highlight Eppley spoke about was actually a joint collaboration between the county and the Town of Roann. Last summer, the abandoned Roann school building was razed, ending a seven-year project that saw the two entities take ownership of the building.

“Challenges and changes are ever present, and through collaboration we can continue to meet them,” Eppley said.

Roann Clerk-Treasurer Bob Ferguson also spoke about the school demolition during his presentation, noting that a Community Development Block Grant helped pay for the demolition.

“We banded together and both of us owned half of it,” Ferguson said of the joint ownership. “That was a big deal for us because now we have the guts to go on and get the money for that. Thanks to the state, OCRA, the county, the commissioners, Roann, we were able to put it all together and get it torn down.
“Now we have a blank canvas. What are we going to do with something like that? Of course, everyone has ideas. Now it’s just going out to the community and finding something that’s going to fit down there. I’m sure we’re going to be talking about a park down there.”

Razing the building was not the town’s only success.

“Over the past 18 months, we have been able to get a little over $1 million in grant money, which has been huge for our community,” Ferguson said.

Grants have helped the town begin to chlorinate its water system, as well as paint the water tower and put a new mixer inside the water tower.

“We were able to do that with a CDGB from OCRA,” Ferguson said. “It was a godsend to the town.”

Another highlight for the community was the addition of a caboose near the Roann library. The site was dedicated last fall. A new sign at the intersection of State Roads 15 and 16 was erected.

The town also received a Community Crossings grant that allowed it to resurface all the streets in the community.
As it has in years past, collaboration has played a part in the success all of the communities have had. Lagro was no exception.

Clerk-Treasurer Kristie Bone discussed how several of the improvements in the Town of Lagro have come about through collaboration with the Visit Wabash County, Wabash River Trail group, the Lagro Canal Foundation and other organizations.
Visit Wabash County, she said, supplied new welcome signs for the community. 

The town has been able to make improvements to the park located at the community building, thanks in part to funding received from the Wabash Chili for Charity Chili Cook-off. Because of the improvements, the town has movie nights in the park, the last of which attracted about 100 families.

“Some new buildings you might see driving through our town are the new pavilion, a new fire pit that was built down by the boat ramp, and we have new restrooms in the area,” Bone said. “We have new sidewalks and a bunch of new paving that goes along with that. That was all done by the Wabash River Trail. They received grants from the Regional Cities Initiative, and a bunch of private donations.”

Three downtown buildings purchased by the Lagro Canal Foundation are in the midst of restoration.

“They have really done a great job in sprucing this up,” Bone said. “They’ve got new windows in so far. They’ve got a new roof on it. They’re working on the inside. Rumor has it that we will hopefully get a restaurant and some stores in those three buildings when they’re finished.

“We’re working really hard on sprucing up our downtown and making it so people want to come and visit.”

LaFontaine Clerk-Treasurer Diana Heath showed photos of the various buildings and businesses in the LaFontaine downtown area, telling things about each site’s history.

For example, the parking lot at the McDonald Funeral Home once was the site of a hotel, she said.

“We’ve had a lot of people move into our community and renovate old homes,” Heath noted.

The town has had some change over the last few years, she said, including the purchase of a new response truck by the LaFontaine/Liberty Fire Department.

“They are right now in the process of looking for a new firetruck,” she said. “Of course, with funds in a small town, they are looking for a used firetruck. They’ve been very diligent in making sure it’s what they want.”

North Manchester Town Council President Toby Tobias discussed various changes to the community.

Last year “was a busy year for Manchester, with economic development being at the forefront,” he said. “I’m really proud of that. Our first loyalty from where I sit as an elected official is to the citizens of my town and trying to benefit the citizens of that town as best I can. But when you have so many victories that work for multiple organizations countywide, that’s a big thing.”

One victory, he noted, was Precision Medical Technologies opening a facility in North Manchester in March. The firm is in the disposable medical instrument field.

“They are already moving forward with an expansion less than a year of getting started,” Tobias said. “So that was a fantastic win, and it continues to look brighter.”

Webb Family Pharmacy moved to North Manchester, renovating a former bank building on State Road 114. Strauss Veal Feeds are expanding widely to include packaging dry products along with their liquid product.

“They’re pumping $12 million into that, with an estimation of 10 new jobs, which is fantastic,” Tobias said. “You like to see new businesses come in. But just as encouraging is to see the stalwarts continuing to grow and recommit to your neighborhood.”

OJI Intertech also is expanding, doubling their existing footprint with a $4.5 million investment.

Wabash Mayor Scott Long said he considers “2018 as a year of relationship building and travel for me and a lot of people in the community.”

One such relationship took place when Long was invited from the president of Indiana University to become a member of the IU advisory board for IU’s Grant Challenge on Addictions.

On a related note, the city has established a Community Drug Steering Committee, the mayor noted.

“Our community partners are working hard to address the issues within the committee,” he said. “We have schools, government officials from law enforcement, probation, the whole gamut. Healthcare, there’s Parkview Hospital, Bowen Center for mental health.

“We also added a recovering addict to that committee. Again, the IU Grant Challenge Community Advisory Board for Addiction is addressing the issue with a $50 million research development for rural needs.”

The Association for Indiana Municipalities also had its first opioid summit. Long took three members of the Mayor’s Youth Council to the issue because, he said, it’s important to get the youth’s perspective.

“Our goal is to create a great place to live, work, play and visit with the partners we have in the room,” he said. “From all of our community partners, to Visit Wabash County, Wabash Marketplace and everyone else.”

As for travel, he touched on the mission trip in November to Japan and China.

“I consider these trips as opening Wabash to the world and opening the world to Wabash,” he said.

As for successes, Long spoke on the aforementioned 10X Engineering project and a new Hampton Inn planned on Ind. 15 and Wedcor Avenue, just north of U.S. 24. He also discussed the funding for an overpass the city received from the state.
Long also established a housing committee to address the city’s housing needs.

“We’ve completed a housing study to tell us what we could absorb in the community,” he said. “We’re looking at in the near term additional middle class opportunities at the Southpointe subdivision. And there are future housing opportunities on the horizon for the city of Wabash both at the legacy site of Parkview Hospital on East Street and other areas in the community.”

Posted on 2019 Mar 05